Next week’s Charles Schwab Cup Championship is a home game for Michael Allen. But that’s not the only reason he’s looking forward to the Champions Tour’s season-ender.
For Allen, a native of San Mateo, Calif., this week’s AT&T Championship at TPC San Antonio and the finale in San Francisco at TPC Harding Park are an opportunity to close out the 2013 season in style.
Allen is one of the best players on the Champions Tour, and has been since his arrival in 2009. Last week’s victory at Rock Barn was his fifth, and if you’re thinking there should have been more, not many will disagree.
Allen has won twice this year – including the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic in March – and has had seven other top 5 finishes. There’s often a fine line between anywhere in the top five and victory. Allen knows how good this year could have been. He also knows it didn’t quite get there. But, on some levels, still might.
“I got off to a good start this year, and the rest of the year has been a little bit of kind of up-and-down play,” Allen said. “I've played nice but I haven't really played that great.
“I really wanted to have a good finish.”
Allen got a start toward that end with a final round 65 at the Greater Hickory Kia Classic, making birdies on two of the last three holes, followed by a two-putt birdie on the decisive extra hole. He reeled in Bernhard Langer, then had to hold off Olin Browne.
“Anytime you get to play with Bernhard Langer on Sunday and have a chance to beat him, it's always great,” Allen said. “He’s a legend. I loved the opportunity, and it was a lot of fun doing it.”
Allen is No. 4 on the money list with over $1.3 million and moved up to Nov. 6 on the Charles Schwab Cup points list. The race for the season-long $1 million bonus is over for Allen. Only three golfers – Kenny Perry, Langer and David Frost – are still in with a chance.
“I know I can't win it, just because I'm so far back, so that's kind of been the frustrating part of it,” said Allen, whose best finish in the Charles Schwab Cup was fourth in 2010.
“I was just kind of hoping to be more a part of that thing. I'd love to win that Charles Schwab Cup. For me right now I really want to win a few tournaments, hopefully get close, get in the top 5, and if you can't win the Schwab Cup at least you want to try and show well, and I think I'm kind of getting there.”
True, he can’t win. But he can certainly influence who might win if he continues to claim big points in the final two tournaments. Allen knows how unpredictable the results can be on the Champions Tour and how volatile, as Browne proved with his finish at Rock Barn.
“That's kind of the way it always is out there,” Allen said. “You're kind of battling the guy who's leading and all of a sudden he's been passed. I mean, to me this is about as fun as it gets. To go out and play against a great player and just keep battling him, that's kind of why we go out there.”
Browne charged into the lead over Allen and Langer with a run of five birdies down the stretch. With his runner-up finish, Browne moved from No. 55 to No. 40 on the money list. Browne won $140,800 for his runner-up finish. First prize was $240,000. The additional $99,200 would have put Browne at $472,982 and into No. 30 on the money list. The top 30 advance to the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
“I've got one more week to try and get that done,” Browne said.
Browne missed five months, beginning in April, because of a stress fracture in his back. He withdrew from the Greater Gwinnett Championship and didn’t return until the Boeing Classic the final week of August.
Browne’s recent form suggests he can make the leap from No. 40 into the top 30 this week at the TPC San Antonio Canyons Course, where the winners share of the $1.9 million purse is $285,000. In his last three tournaments, Browne, the 2011 U.S. Senior Open champion, has won just over $225,000. He tied for ninth at the Nature Valley First Tee Classic at Pebble Beach and tied for 11th at the SAS Championship before the runner-up finish last week.
Rookie John Riegger holds the final qualifying spot with $469,457, just $2,160 ahead of Senior PGA champion Kohki Idoki of Japan. Above Riegger are No. 28 Dan Forsman and No. 29 Steve Elkington. Trailing Idoki are Rod Spittle and Bill Glasson.
History shows that there is a 50-50 chance of somebody making the move into the top 30 in the final event. It has happened four times in the last eight years but not in the last three years. The biggest move came in 2009 when Phil Blackmar moved from 57th to 30th by winning the AT&T Championship.